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  • Writer's pictureMona Elyafi

Eugene Mercier, The Communication Genius...


As P.T. Barnum said: “Without Publicity, something terrible happens... nothing!”

No man understood that concept better than Eugene Mercier - a colorful man at the forefront of developing champagne marketing.

From the early 1900s, champagne advertising took on modern symbolism. One thing that characterized the Belle Epoque was “Le Grand Geste,” the tendency to do something and let people know about it on a large scale, namely Publicity!

Mercier was only 20 years old when he set out to break conventional barriers and elaborate a champagne suited “for all occasions” (and not just for the elite)

Founding his Epernay-based Champagne House in 1858, Eugene Mercier brought a new kind of effervescence and panache to the champagne industry pioneering the concept of marketing.


Ahead of his time, the spirited, avant-grade, non-conformist young man mastered the art of publicity stunt to a T, staging many events that dramatically raised the level of sensationalism required to startle the public and the media.

In 1870 he began the construction of the famed “Foudre” - the largest wine cask in the world (a “Cathedral of Champagne”) - to be exposed at the 1889 Exposition Universelle de Paris. Weighing over 20 tones, measuring 5 meters in height and able to hold up to 200,000 bottles, the cask was built over a decade and its trip from Epernay to Paris (a mere 170 km) took over 3 weeks. To move the cask, bridges had to be built and houses destroyed to allow this gargantuesque barrel to reach the capital. Sensational it was!

Mercier’s success was colossal - with only one other attraction outshining Le Foudre, a little tower called La Tour Eiffel.

In the 1860’s Mercier began the digging of its famous galleries, 30 meter deep, 18km long of cellars that extend beneath the surface of Epernay. Those galleries were made available to visit even before they were completed, and later in 1950 the Mercier group boldly organized a 4CV rally race inside.

Visiting the House riding through a section of the tunnels on a miniature train, you can immerse yourself into the extensive tunnels that are Mercier’s heritage.

The PR guru had the genial idea to partner with Les Frères Lumières to produce the first ever film commercial dubbed « De la grappe à la coupe » ("The making of champagne, from the grape to the glass”), which was shown at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Mercier was a visionary who early on understood the power of combining technical progress with flamboyant communication strategies as a recipe for success.

Mercier was an incredible entrepreneur with an uncanny marketing maesrtia.

At the same 1900 Paris Universal Exposition, he created the first "Ballon Captif” - a Mercier-branded hydrogen balloon - that flew some 20,000 people up to an altitude of 300m while delighting them with a panoramic view of Paris and a glass of Champagne Mercier. The captive balloon had Mercier's brand name painted in massive letters that could be seen from the ground. Talk about visibility!

Whether accidental or not, somehow during the ceremonious Paris to Épernay escapade, which was organized at the close of the fair, the balloon struggling against difficult weather, wandered away eventually landing in Belgium. The border police inspected the balloon and found six bottles of champagne.

Mercier was promptly fined for illegally importing Champagne, but the global publicity garnered from the so-called incident single-handedly turned the house into a household name.

“This was the cheapest advertising I have ever run, “said Eugéne Mercier.

Indeed, the media attention cost him was less expensive than the price of an Ad.

Five years later at the 1905 Exposition Universelle, Mercier and his team pulled another PR coup, delivering a replica of the Arc de Triomphe made of some 15,000 bottles of champagne.

To celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the construction of the Foudre and the digging of the galleries, Champagne Mercier is offering visitors a special retrospective that retraces the edification of these two pharaonic projects and the history of the ingenious mastermind behind it all, Eugene Mercier.

Ultimately Mercier succeeded at making Champagne accessible to more people than ever before, but he also recognized the importance of publicity and took the field of PR to new heights, laying the foundation for a modern concept of marketing and publicity which continues to this day.

A genius in communications, suffice it to say that Mercier's marketing legacy is immeasurable - a legacy that testifies to the unique history of a House that has always fearlessly moved the needle, steered clear of conventions and gone out of bounds.

Mercier’s story shows us that to succeed, more often than not, you have to go against the norm and do something bold and daring in the name of your own innate passions.

There are always going to be new zeitgeists, techniques and platforms shaping the PR and marketing game, but all of them stem from the same single crucial element that goes into any effective & impactful campaign: a good story.

And this one certainly is!

All grand story do start with champagne 🍾

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